Chinese Fighter Group Seeks Bizjet Partners

Mar 11, 2011

By Bradley Perrett
Chinese fighter builder Avic Defense is seeking negotiations with all major western business jet manufacturers as it looks to launch itself into the field.

After China’s slow progress in independently developing commercial aircraft, Avic Defense has concluded that it needs to work with an experienced foreign company to get into business aircraft manufacturing, says one industry executive.

Its ambition to build a large, high-performance aircraft has apparently underscored the need for outside help.

Yet the foreign manufacturers with which it is negotiating all face the perennial conundrum in cooperative aircraft developments with Chinese industry: by working with Avic Defense they might make a good profit on one program but train a future competitor as they do it. One example is Chinese copying of Russian fighter know-how through partnerships since the Soviet Union collapsed.

It is a temptation that the Western commercial aircraft builders have generally resisted, but Chinese efforts persist. “They [Avic Defense] have certainly contacted all the manufacturers,” says another executive from a Western company that makes big business jets.

Dassault said in December that it was in talks with Chinese industry on collaborative production. Indeed, Dassault is the company that Avic Defense seeks to emulate. When it was set up in 2009 by bundling together Avic’s combat aircraft factories and institutes, the head office directed it to use its expertise to build a large business jet.

The Chengdu plant, builder of the J-10 and J-20 fighters, would lead the Chinese side of the development, says a third industry executive.

Cooperation is not the only way for China to get foreign expertise in the field of civil aviation. Since 2009, Avic subsidiaries, wielding the abundant and cheap capital controlled by the Chinese state, have repeatedly bought Western companies with know-how that China lacked. The latest was the general aviation aircraft manufacturer Cirrus, bought by Avic General Aircraft, itself an aspiring business jet builder.

Even if one of the big-jet builders were not for sale, another experienced business aircraft company could become the technical foundation for Avic Defense’s new line.

Other builders of big business aircraft are Gulfstream and Bombardier.

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